Fractional currency (United States)
Fractional currency, also referred to as shinplasters, was introduced by the United States federal government following the outbreak of the Civil War. These fractional notes were in use between 21 August 1862 and 15 February 1876, and issued in 3, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50 cent denominations across five issuing periods. The complete type set below is part of the National Numismatic Collection, housed at the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution.
The Civil War economy catalyzed a shortage of United States coinage—gold and silver coins were hoarded given their intrinsic bullion value relative to irredeemable paper currency at the time. In late 1861, to help finance the Civil War, the U.S. government borrowed gold coin from New York City banks in exchange for Seven-thirties treasury notes and the New York banks sold them to the public for gold to repay the loan. In December 1861, the Trent Affair shook public confidence with the threat of war on a second front. The United States Department of the Treasury suspended specie payments and banks in New York City stopped redeeming paper money for gold and silver. In the absence of gold and silver coin, the premium for specie began to devalue paper currency. After the New York banks suspended specie payments (quickly followed by Boston and Philadelphia) the premium on gold rose from 1–3% over paper in early January 1862 to 9% over paper in June 1862, by which time one paper dollar was worth 91.69 cents in gold. This fueled currency speculation (e.g., redeeming banknotes for silver coin which was then sold at a premium as bullion), and created significant disruption across businesses and trade. Alternate methods of providing small change included the reintroduction of Spanish quarter dollars in Philadelphia, cutting dollar bills in quarters or halves, refusing to provide change (without charging a premium for providing silver coins), or the issuance of locally issued shinplasters (i.e., those issued by businesses or local municipalities) was forbidden by law in many states.
Treasurer of the United States Francis E. Spinner has been credited with finding the solution to the shortage of coinage: he created postage currency (which led into the use of Fractional currency). Postage (or postal) currency was the first of five issues of US Post Office fractional paper money printed in 5-cent, 10-cent, 25-cent, and 50-cent denominations and issued from 21 August 1862 through 27 May 1863. Spinner proposed using postage stamps, affixed to Treasury paper, with his signature on the bottom (see illustration below). Based on this initiative, Congress supported a temporary solution involving fractional currency and on 17 July 1862 President Lincoln signed the Postage Currency Bill into law. The intent, however, was not that stamps should be a circulating currency.
The design of the First Issue (postage currency) was directly based on Spinner’s original handmade examples. Some varieties even had perforated stamp-like edge. While not actually legal tender, postage currency could be exchanged for United States Notes in $5 lots and were receivable in payment of all dues to the United States, up to $5. Subsequent issues would no longer include images of stamps and were referred to as Fractional Currency. Despite the July 1862 legislation, postage stamps remained a form of currency until postage currency gained momentum in the spring of 1863. In 1863, Secretary Chase asked for a new fractional currency that was harder to counterfeit than the postage currency. The new fractional currency notes were different from the 1862 postage currency issues. They were more colorful with printing on the reverse, and several anti-counterfeiting measures were employed: experimental paper, adding surcharges, overprints, blue end paper, silk fibers, and watermarks to name a few. Fractional currency shields which had single sided specimens were sold to banks to provide a standard for comparison for detecting counterfeits. Postage and fractional currency remained in use until 1876, when Congress authorized the minting of fractional silver coins to redeem the outstanding fractional currency.
Issuing periods and varieties
Spinner's initial signed design (photo)
Original model artwork
Working proof with pencil notations
Complete type set of United States fractional currency
|$0.05||First Issue||mm65 x 43.5||Fr.1231||Thomas Jefferson||1228 – Perforated; monogram|
1229 – Perforated; no monogram
1230 – Straight; monogram
1231 – Straight; no monogram
|$0.10||First Issue||mm65 x 43.5||Fr.1240||George Washington||1240 – Perforated; monogram|
1241 – Perforated; no monogram
1242 – Straight; monogram
1243 – Straight; no monogram
|$0.25||First Issue||mm65.5 x 45||Fr.1280||Thomas Jefferson||1279 – Perforated; monogram|
1280 – Perforated; no monogram
1281 – Straight; monogram
1282 – Straight; no monogram
|$0.50||First Issue||mm65.5 x 45||Fr.1312||George Washington||1310 – Perforated; monogram|
1311 – Perforated; no monogram
1311a – Same, except 14 versus 12 perf/20 mm
1312 – Straight; monogram
1314 – Straight; no monogram
|$0.05||Second Issue||mm65.5 x 47||Fr.1232||George Washington||1232 – No surcharge|
1233 – Surcharge “18-63”
1234 – Surcharge “18-63” and “S”
1235 – Surcharge “18-63” and “R-1”; Fiber paper
|$0.10||Second Issue||mm65.5 x 47||Fr.1246||George Washington||1244 – No surcharge|
1245 – Surcharge “18-63”
1246 – Surcharge “18-63” and “S”
1247 – Surcharge “18-63” and “I”
1248 – Surcharge “0-63”
1249 – Surcharge “18-63” and “T-1”
|$0.25||Second Issue||mm65.5 x 47||Fr.1284||George Washington||1283 – No surcharge.|
1284 – Surcharge “18-63”
1285 – Surcharge “18-63” and “A”
1286 – Surcharge “18-63” and “S”
1287 – Unissued Friedberg number
1288 – Surcharge “18-63” and “2”
1289 – Surcharge “18-63” and “T-1”; fiber paper
1290 – Surcharge “18-63” and “T-2”; fiber paper
|$0.50||Second Issue||mm65.5 x 47||Fr.1322||George Washington||1314 – No surcharge|
1315 – Unissued Friedberg number
1316 – Surcharge “18-63”
1317 – Surcharge “18-63” and “A”
1318 – Surcharge “18-63” and “1”
1319 – Unissued Friedberg number
1320 – Surcharge “18-63” and “0-1”; fiber paper
1321 – Surcharge “18-63” and “R-2”; fiber paper
1322 – Surcharge “18-63” and “T-1”; fiber paper
|$0.03||Third Issue||mm66 x 40.5||Fr.1226||George Washington||1226 – Portrait light background|
1227 – Portrait dark background
|$0.05||Third Issue||mm64 x 46||Fr.1238||Spencer Clark||1236 – Red reverse|
1237 – Red reverse; design letter “a”
1238 – Green reverse
1239 – Green reverse; design letter “a”
|$0.10||Third Issue||mm81 x 47||Fr.1254||George Washington|
|$0.25||Third Issue||mm95.5 x 47||Fr.1294||William Fessenden|
|$0.50||Third Issue||mm114 x 48||Fr.1328||Francis Spinner|
|$0.50||Third Issue||mm114 x 48||Fr.1339||Francis Spinner||1339 – Green reverse; no surcharge or design figures|
1340 – Green reverse; design figures “1” and “a”
1341 – Green reverse; design figure “1”
1342 – Green reverse; design figure “a”
|$0.50||Third Issue||mm114 x 48||Fr.1355||Justice holding scales|
|$0.10||Fourth Issue||mm79 x 46||Fr.1259||Bust of Liberty||1257 – Large red seal; watermarked; silk fibers (pink)|
1258 – Large red seal; silk fibers (pink)
1259 – Large red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
1260 – Does not exist
1261 – Smaller red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
|$0.15||Fourth Issue||mm89 x 46||Fr.1269||Bust of Columbia||1267 – Large red seal; watermarked; silk fibers (pink)|
1268 – Large red seal; silk fibers (pink)
1269 – Large red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
1270 – Does not exist
1271 – Smaller red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
|$0.25||Fourth Issue||mm96.5 x 46||Fr.1303||George Washington||1301 – Large red seal; watermarked; silk fibers (pink)|
1302 – Large red seal; silk fibers (pink)
1303 – Large red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
1307 – Smaller red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper
|$0.50||Fourth Issue||mm106 x 47||Fr.1374||Abraham Lincoln||1374 – Large seal; watermarked; silk fibers (pink)|
1375 – Delisted Friedberg number
|$0.50||Fourth Issue||mm103 x 46||Fr.1376||Edwin Stanton||1376 – Small red seal; silk fibers (violet); blue end paper|
|$0.50||Fourth Issue||mm95 x 52||Fr.1379||Samuel Dexter||1379 - Green seal; silk fibers (light violet); blue end paper|
|$0.10||Fifth Issue||mm81 x 51||Fr.1265||William Meredith||1264 – Green seal|
1265 – Red seal; long, thin key (in Treasury seal)
1266 – Red seal; short, thick key (in Treasury seal)
|$0.25||Fifth Issue||mm88.5 x 51.5||Fr.1308||Robert Walker||1308 – Long, thin key (in Treasury seal)|
1309 – Short, thick key (in Treasury seal)
|$0.50||Fifth Issue||mm109.5 x 53.5||Fr.1381||William Crawford||1380 – Red seal; light pink paper on obvserse; silk fibers|
1381 – Red seal; blue end paper; silk fibers
“…no portrait or likeness of any living person…”
Three people were depicted on fractional currency during their lifetime: Francis E. Spinner (Treasurer of the United States), William P. Fessenden (U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Treasury), and Spencer M. Clark (Superintendent of the National Currency Bureau). Both Spinner and Clark decided to have their portrait depicted on currency, which created controversy. Republican Representative Martin R. Thayer of Pennsylvania was an outspoken critic, suggesting that the Treasury's privilege of portrait selection for currency was being abused. On 7 April 1866, led by Thayer, Congress enacted legislation specifically stating "that no portrait or likeness of any living person hereafter engraved, shall be placed upon any of the bonds, securities, notes, fractional or postal currency of the United States." On the date of passage, the plates for the 15-cent note depicting William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant had not been completed and thus fell under the scope of the new law. The Sherman-Grant notes exist only as specimens.
- Federal Reserve System
- List of people on United States banknotes
- Treasury Note (19th century)
- United States postal notes
- All images are courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
- The payment obligation printed on first issue notes states they are "Exchangeable for United States Notes by any Assistant Treasurer or designated U.S. Depositary in sums not less than five dollars. Receivable in payments of all dues to the U. States less than five dollars."
- The payment obligation for the second issue was slightly different: "Exchangeable for United States Notes by the Assistant Treasurer and designated depositories of the U.S. in sums not less than three dollars. Receivable in payment of all dues to the United States less than five dollars except customs."
- The reverse of the first issue was originally printed by the National Bank Note Company. As a security precaution, the Treasury moved the printing contract to the American Bank Note Company who added their monogram ABC to the reverse of the remaining first issue notes.
- Also known as membrane paper; two sheets of paper bonded together with fibers embedded.
- Sort by size is based on the surface area of the note in millimeters-squared. Margins and cut may affect the listed dimensions, but generally not more than +/- 2 mm
- "Fr" numbers refer to the numbering system in the widely used Friedberg reference book. Fr. numbers indicate varieties existing within a larger type design.
- Varieties are taken from the standard paper money reference by Arthur and Ira Friedberg, with additional descriptions in the Kravitz collector's guide
- Fr.1304, 1305, and 1306 are unassigned.
- "But now we see upon our current paper money not only the heads of the illustrious men of our country long since gathered to their fathers, but of living secretaries of the Treasury, and even of such subordinate officers as the superintendent of the Currency Printing Bureau, Mr. S.M. Clark."
- Friedberg & Friedberg, p. 174.
- Cuhaj, p. 401.
- "Pastimes: Numismatics". The New York Times. 5 March 1989. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
- Anderson, p. 303.
- Reed, p. 298.
- Mitchell, 1903, pp. 27–32.
- Mitchell, 1902, p. 537.
- Mitchell, 1903, pp. 37–38.
- Mitchell, 1902, p. 552.
- Mitchell, 1903, p. 41.
- Mitchell, 1902, p. 540.
- Mitchell, 1902, p. 553.
- Mitchell, 1902, p. 554.
- Blake, p. 32.
- Knox, p. 104.
- Spaulding, Elbridge Gerry (1869). History of the Legal Tender Paper Money issued during the Great Rebellion. Buffalo NY: Express Printing Co. pp. 165–166.
- "History Timeline". Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
- Knox, p. 103.
- Reed, p. 302.
- Friedberg & Friedberg, p. 182.
- Knox, pp. 104 and 109.
- Friedberg & Friedberg, pp. 174–81.
- Kravitz, p. 32.
- Kravitz, pp. 34–39.
- Kravitz, pp. 40–41.
- Kravitz, p. 41.
- Friedberg & Friedberg
- Kravitz, pp. 30–41.
- Heritage Currency Auctions – Central States 2005. Ivy Press. 2005. p. 65. ISBN 1932899642. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Friedberg & Friedberg, p. 178.
- "BEP Directors – Spencer M. Clark". Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Cuhaj, p. 407.
- "Portraits & Designs". U.S. Treasury Website. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- "Congress". The Nation. New York: Joseph H. Richards. 2: 387. 29 March 1866. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Rothbard, p. 126.
- National Monetary Commission, p. 191.
- Kravitz, p. 67.
- Friedberg & Friedberg, p. 183.
Books and journals
- Anderson, George L. (1939). "The proposed resumption of silver payments in 1873". Pacific Historical Review. University of California Press. 8 (3): 301–316. doi:10.2307/3633807. JSTOR 3633807.
- Blake, George Herbert (1908). United States paper money. George H. Blake.
- Cuhaj, George S. (2012). Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money (31 ed.). Iola, WI: Krause Publications. p. 407. ISBN 978-1-4402-3087-5. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Friedberg, Arthur L.; Friedberg, Ira S. (2010). Paper Money of the United States: A Complete Illustrated Guide With Valuations (19th ed.). Coin & Currency Institute. ISBN 0-87184-519-9. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- Knox, John Jay (1888). United States Notes: A history of the various issues of paper money by the government of the United States (3rd ed.). Charles Scribner’s Sons.
- Kravitz, Robert J. (2012). A collector’s guide to postage & fractional currency: The pocket change of the Union (2nd ed.). Coin & Currency Institute. ISBN 978-087184-204-6.
- Mitchell, Wesley C. (1902). "The circulating medium during the Civil War". Journal of Political Economy. The University of Chicago Press. 10 (4): 537–574. doi:10.1086/250880. JSTOR 1820246.
- Mitchell, Wesley C. (1903). A history of the greenbacks. The University of Chicago Press.
- National Monetary Commission (1911). Financial laws of the United States 1778–1909. Washington, DC.: Express Printing Co. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
- Reed, Fred (2012). "One hundred and fifty summers ago Civil War postage stamp envelopes circulated as small change". Paper Money. Society of Paper Money Collectors. 280 (July/August): 298–304.
- Rothbard, Murray N. (2002). A History of Money and Banking in the United States – The Colonial Era to World War II. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute. ISBN 0-945466-33-1. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Spaulding, Elbridge G. (1869). History of the Legal Tender Paper Money issued during the Great Rebellion (2nd ed.). Buffalo, NY: Express Printing Co. pp. 165–66. ISBN 978-087184-204-6. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- Lera, Thomas (2011). "In the National Postal Museum: Postage and Fractional Currency". Collectors Club Philatelist. 90 (4): 235–237.
- Wakeman, Abram (October 11, 1862). "The Postage Stamp Currency; Statement of City Postmaster Wakeman in Reference to Defaced Postage Stamps". New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2013.